HINDUSTAN TIMES COMMENTARY

Mother Teresa’s Christian faith does not undermine her social work

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MOHAN BHAGWAT, chief of the Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), cast aspersions on the work done by the late St. Mother Teresa saying that she did good work with the ulterior motive of converting people to Christianity.

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Bhagwat said: “Mother Teresa’s service would have been good. But it used to have one objective to convert the person, who was being served, into a Christian.”

Many people — mainly Christians and opposition leaders —condemned Bhagwat’s statement. The spokesperson for the Missionaries of Charity (MoC), which Mother Teresa founded, said that Bhagwat’s “comments reflect how misinformed he is.”

Those who condemned Bhagwat tried to highlight Mother Teresa as a “secular” person — and this is far from the truth. She was a religious person, a Christian, a Catholic. To buttress her defense, the MoC spokesperson said that Mother Teresa was “above religion.” This claim runs on thin ice. Mother Teresa was canonized by the Vatican and recognized by the Church for her work toward spreading and strengthening Christianity. The Vatican does not canonize people just for their extraordinary social work. If that was the case we would have had Saint Nelson Mandela and Saint Baba Amte by now.

Mother Teresa was a Roman Catholic by faith and as a nun spreading the Christian faith was her raison d’etre. She chose to serve the most underprivileged and outcast people in society and opened her arms to lepers, TB patients and terminally ill people at a time when the government and society had abandoned them. Her work in this field, no doubt, is without parallel.

Great social worker and also an ardent Christian
To accept that Mother Teresa was a great social worker and at the same time an ardent Christian is not wrong, the two are not at odds, but at a certain level complement each other. Some of the greatest social work has come from people of faith and organizations that have a religious leaning.

The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), for example. The AKDN is well-known for its work in various sectors like health, rural development, education, etc in Asia and Africa. While it does not “restrict its work to a particular community, country or region,” the AKDN is “underpinned by the ethical principles of Islam.” T

The Ramakrishna Mission is a spiritual movement that has a worldwide presence, and its philanthropic and educational endeavors have brought succor to many people.

Being affiliated to a particular religious thought need not undermine the social work done by the individual or organization. It becomes a problem when religion supersedes the social work done. Mother Teresa cannot be accused of this and her organization and supporters should not be apologetic about her faith.

Bhagwat’s statement has a greater political motive to it. On the face of it he has not made a new revelation — allegations against the work done by Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity are not new. However, Bhagwat’s statement is important for its timing and its message to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It comes roughly a week after Modi assured minorities that India was and will be a secular nation. Interestingly, Modi gave this assurance at a function held in New Delhi to celebrate the canonization of Saints Mother Euphrasia and Kuriakose Elias Chavara — who both helped spread Christianity in India (and thereby helped in religious conversions).

Bhagwat and his Sangh parivar is underlining their message that India is a Hindu rashtra and Hindutva is the agenda that will be pursued. Love jihad, ghar wapsi and other statements by the likes of Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti and Sakshi Maharaj are not random utterances or fringe voices — they are sneak peeks into a grand vision the Sangh has for India.

This is no “good cop bad cop” game as the opposition would want us to believe. Bhagwat is sending out an unambiguous message to Modi: “You might be the PM, but remember, it’s us who got you there.”

The challenge for Modi is to keep his promise to minorities without being pilloried by right-wing groups. India’s secular bandwidth is decreasing by the day and, along with the economy, protecting this will be Modi’s greatest test while in office.

©2015 the Hindustan Times (New Delhi)/Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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1 Comment

  1. The touchstone of the AKDN in this case is inappropriate. Not only is the AKDN completely non-denominational in every way and completely equal access, and deals with best practice in a global sense, it also does not proselytize. It does not “baptize” anyone. That means the AKDN, which is supported by international institutions and government around the world, is a better touchstone for UN agencies, the WHO, and perhaps even the Red Cross and Red Crescent, but is quite different from the Catholic church institutions, which have always had missionary work and proselytize as a central driver. When you go to an Aga Khan Hospital or an Aga Khan School, you will never have services delivered by religious officers. Nor will they make medical or schooling decisions based on religion (consider Mother Teresa’s institutions in the past kept elements of healthcare away from the needy, as part of the process of “saving the soul” as she as a Catholic understood it).

    To be clear, I’m not making a comment on what India should do on this matter, but I did want to provide clarity on the Aga Khan Development Network. They are a pristine organsation, and instead of making the false touchstone, perhaps these other entities should be asked to run more like the AKDN such as to gain acceptance in the great country that is India.